If you are curious how to go about international travel with your beloved iPhone, then our blog is a pretty handy resource thanks to Sebastien and his many trips overseas. Just make sure you don’t take any advice from Alanna Fero of British Columbia.

The Canadian woman went on vacation to Egypt with her brand new TELUS iPhone, only to return home to a cell phone bill that would make Brad Pitt say WTF? For her 2 weeks on the African continent, Mrs. Fero racked up a $37,000 phone bill due to international roaming while using her iPhone.

How in the world could this happen might you ask? Your cell phone plan, in general, is built for nationwide travel. Unless you have specific international dialing and data usage features on your plan, per minute voice calls and per MB data usage gets extremely expensive outside of your home country.

But don’t worry. In most cases this can be avoided by simply contacting your wireless provider and letting them know where you are traveling to. They’ll help you determine which international calling plan and features are right for you. Now I say in most cases because that’s precisely what Alanna from B.C. is claiming she did. She says she was sure to contact her wireless provider, TELUS, several times before she left the country to ensure she didn’t come home to a ridiculous phone bill. Sounds like it’s a serious case of he said she said, but due to the public nature of this situation, you can bet that TELUS will negotiate that $40,000 bill down quite a bit.

An easier option is to turn OFF Data Roaming and Cellular Data in Settings > General > Network.

What do you guys think? Have you or are you planning to travel abroad with your iPhone? Sound off below.

  • chris

    I racked up a $2,000 bill the first month I got my iPhone in 2007.

  • crazy! unlock is always the way to go.

    • soccerkrzy

      You really have zero idea what you’re talking about do you?

      • nick

        Unlock would actually be a massive help in this situation, the woman could have bought a sim card for a carrier in egypt and avoided the international charges.

        Sounds like you don’t know what your talking about

      • Burn 😉

      • neal

        agree with soccerkrzy though… TELUS is just like Verizon… it doesn’t use a sim card… so what’s the use of unlock??

      • jSlides

        Neal,
        Telus does use SIM cards and will unlock select phones for $50. Not sure which phones though. If you are on the TELUS HSAP+ network you get a SIM card. This is the network used by all their new smart phones. iPhone, Windows, Android and BB all use the HSPA+ network now. I have a windows phone and my ex has a BB both with SIM cards through TELUS.

  • Has she ever heard of Skype? Or just not using it while overseas, worst case.

  • Nikko

    Always roaming off and then i try to hunt every wi-fi spot possible (which makes my wife a little bit angry 😉

  • I just don’t use my phone while I’m away. :/ She must have spent more time on the phones than enjoying her holiday!

  • Nick

    Unlock. Local SIM. Accept consequences of actions. Not hard. The iPhone works really well in other countries and a little prior research will point you to an appropriate telco at your destination. I’ve done NZ, China, UK, Russia, South Africa & Singapore for about $20 each. Honestly people behave like adults why don’t ya.

    • Veronica

      I agree. I’ve traveled several times to south America and I always switch roaming off. Never had an issue with huge phone bills.Of course, the problem is finding a decent WiFi spot.

  • Nick

    Unlock. Local SIM. Accept consequences of actions. Not hard. The iPhone works really well in other countries and a little prior research will point you to an appropriate telco at your destination. I’ve done NZ, China, UK, Russia, South Africa & Singapore for about $20 each.

    • Z

      Where’s the “behave like adults, people, why don’t ya”? Lol

  • manuel

    This article tells me three things when you leave the country.

    1. don’t take your phone out of the country you got it from.

    2. buy a cheap prepaid phone with a set amount of minutes since your vacation is to enjoy time away from people, not to talk and text them.

    3. Don’t expect companies to tell you about roaming unless you ask, and make sure you are completely aware of all types of roaming charges if you do leave the country and bring your phone.

  • appletiser

    if she really did call her provider before travelling they should have a record of it, most companies have some kind of process as ‘insurance’ against potential idiots like this who don’t take responsibility for their own actions.

    • Pedant

      And why is it in the providers interest to reveal such a call?

      *She* needs to be able to name person and time. She’s the one that needs the call to have existing.

      • appletiser

        did i say they should reveal such a call? No. If you read what i wrote properly you’d have noticed i said it’s a system companies employ to use as insurance or ‘evidence’ against potential false claims and i was merely following on from the article’s comment “Sounds like it’s a serious case of he said she said”. This shouldn’t be an issue if one side has proof of the conversation.

      • Wirehedd

        As a Telus Canada subscriber I can say that if she did contact them before hand and asked them about roaming charges and device usage in another country that information will be right on her customer information page on the customer service rep’s screen as soon as she calls in to Telus. They are required to document information from every call and it’s been my experience for the last 4 years that they do. Telus is a big company but they treat their customers quite well if you know how to deal with them and make sure to cover your ass in situation like this.

        Long story short, if she did talk to them about it they know she did and they will either discount the bill to whatever it “should” have been if she had done it right or they will negotiate the price down to near that price even if she didn’t just so they can keep the customer account active so long as she can pay it which, if she can afford Egypt, she can pay her bill. The $37k number will never even be approached as to what she will be expected to pay in the end.

        I’d be stunned if she had to even pay as much as $1000. Telus does some pretty crazy stuff to keep long term customers. When my 1st iphone got smashed to bits at work (though not my fault and my company gave me a letter to prove it) they replaced it for the cost of shipping. Yeah, that kind of crazy.

  • Tom

    When i went overseas a year ago i was using verizon version of blackberry and inquired about international usage of the phone. While there for one month i used my phone occasionally and sent text messages half of which were not delivered and when i came back to the U.S. my phone bill was $2200. Needless to say i cancelled my verizon account and now have an iPhone 4 which is soon to be unlocked and i will use local overseas sim card while there when i go back in a few months. Unlock is the only way to go.

  • Im on AT&T and went overseas to England an used data (no calls). No huge bill or anything.

  • DaPlumber

    And Cellular companies wonder why their customers hate them? Their default aporoach is to play “Gotcha Sucka!” and then gouge when you trip over something. Then there’s the lock-in issue and the ridiculous notion that you somehow have meaningful choice. How on earth did we wind up with a worldwide cellular industry where the network operators have the business model of organized crime and handset manufacturers that of drug pushers? Yes, people need to be responsible consumers, but recognize how the game is rigged too.

  • In the Netherlands the providers will lock your data account, after running beyond €50,- of roaming. You should inform your telco if you want it unlocked, or set a higher limit. As being an international computer company, I’ll always buy a pre-pay card. And make sure to say at my voicemail my Skype and Viber phone number, so my customers could always reach me. I use my iPhone intensively abroad, but even if I’m a full month abroad, I never pay more then €200.- while abroad

  • Jason Masters

    Easy solution unlock use local prepaid sim most international is free incoming calls so maybe she racked it up on purpose and just didn’t care. There really isn’t an excuse for stupidity though I use my iPhone everywhere I travel I use prepaid sims and I never have a bill period.

  • STK10

    This person is an idiot. In this day and age you get surprised with a high mobile bill for over use/using over seas you only have yourself to blame.

    • gmx99

      Right!
      2007? iPhone or every phone?
      Come on….

  • Kc

    I’m Canadian and regularly come to the UK. I’ve got a contract-free iPhone 4. I bought a £1 sim card from Tesco (UK supermarket) load £10 on it for a 2 week trip & opt for the unlimited weekly data pay as you go for £2 per week. I’ll use Skype frequently. Some trips require me to load another £10: hardly OMG. Unlocked is the way to go even though changing the sim out each way is a bit of a pain

  • Kc

    I’m Canadian and regularly come to the UK. I’ve got a contract-free iPhone 4. I bought a £1 sim card from Tesco (UK supermarket) load £10 on it for a 2 week trip & opt for the unlimited weekly data pay as you go for £2 per week. I’ll use Skype frequently. Some trips require me to load another £10: hardly OMG.

  • james016

    Isn’t data roaming switched off by default? So this woman would have had to turn it on.

  • DaPlumber

    I know that this is story is from Canada, but for all of you outside the USA: Although we can buy a contract-free iPhone (and pay full retail price, no discounting) we cannot buy an unlocked GSM iPhone. Neither AT&T or Apple will unlock an iPhone no matter the situation and there is no legal requirement to do so. Jailbreaking and Unlocking while recently granted an exception to be legal are beyond the average iPhone consumer. Selling a JB and UL iPhone is uncharted legal territory and you don’t want to be the test case, even if you win. AT&T has an incentive to not change this, visible in their outrageous international voice and data roaming packages. The “offer you can’t refuse” from the protection racket…

  • DaPlumber

    I know that this is story is from Canada, but for all of you outside the USA: Although we can buy a contract-free iPhone (and pay full retail price, no discounting) we cannot buy an unlocked GSM iPhone. Neither AT&T or Apple will unlock an iPhone no matter the situation and there is no legal requirement to do so. Jailbreaking and Unlocking while recently granted an exception to be legal are beyond the average iPhone consumer. Selling a JB and UL iPhone is uncharted legal territory and you don’t want to be the test case, even if you win. “Big Blue Ball” has an incentive to not change this, visible in their outrageous international voice and data roaming packages. The “offer you can’t refuse” from the protection racket…

  • Wow, that has to be the most expensive charge for data roaming I’ve seen.
    Also – how did she tally 1.6GB of data, on roaming, in 2.5 weeks?! Lot of youtube I assume..

    If you want to avoid outrageous charges on data roaming, check out Onavo – an iPhone app that can slash data roaming charges by up to 80%. Now in beta, you’re welcome to grab your invite here: http://bit.ly/fd9ROu

    Dvir.

    [disclaimer: I work at Onavo as the marketing director]

    • Thor

      Might be nice if your web page explained WTF service actual is, how it works etc. No way am I signing up for something that is so coy.

      • Thor,
        I understand your position – believe me we would have said more if we could.
        Because we’re a start-up, pre-launch, we can’t disclose all of our secrets, and prefer to remain stealth, just for a few more weeks.. 😉

        If you have any specific concerns, email me and I’ll be happy to answer: dvir at onavo.com.

        Dvir.

  • babeh

    last time a go abroad, i was using my prepaid simcard instead post paid card. Its very safe.
    My boss still use his post paid got 1000 usd bill.

    Use the nimbuzz for calling voip with gmail, ym, etc simultanously using hotel wifi, totally free. Can chat through facebook proxy too in china!

  • brad

    I live in Canada and our cell phone rates are ridiculous in the first place plus they’re definitely not fair when travelling overseas. Personally I like to use a provider in the country I’m visiting which is possible with an unlocked iPhone 😀 and then get an overseas calling card to call home it’s the cheapest way possible. Went to Germany for two weeks and my total cost for cell phone service and overseas card was just over 50 euros much less expensive then Alanna’s bill 😀

  • Xepptizz

    I have an unlocked iphone and am planning to go to china. Does anyone have an advice for a decent provider over there i.e good prepaid data sims?

  • Nick Partridge

    @Xepptizz look at http://paygsimwithdata.wikia.com/wiki/Pay_as_you_go_sim_with_data_Wiki
    China Unicom will give you data and incoming calls but neither they or Chine Mobil will give you outgoing calling without a massive (and functionally unrecoverable) deposit. There are a number of “callback” services that work (search iTunes and I get a page full, I used BigTinCan, seems OK) – Outgoing TXT works! So ask people to call you, quite a cheap option 😉
    I’ve not seen micro-sims so invest in a cutter (or get brave with the nail scissors). – First time I went I got by with an ipod touch, a plug in microphone, office WiFi and Skype.

    @neal – You surprise me, the Telus site refers to the phone as being GSM http://www.telusmobility.com/en/ON/iphone4_16gb/index.shtml i.e. not CDMA so I would expect it to take a SIM. If not still cheaper to buy a phone outright from apple than be up for $37k, even paying 10% of that a new phone is cheaper.

    @Dvir – not travelling again for a while and came over all nervous during sign up, what if I got my current settings messed up? I will have a look when you are out of Beta.

    • XepptizZ

      Thanks, much appriciated. And yes I agree on her not have taken enough precaution, but a small mistake should never be that costly. It’s kinda like the first time ever someone goes to a fancy hotel. Everyone knows not to touvh the minibar, but here are always those who find out in a walletburning way. Something like that also happened to me in a bar when I got offered a bottle of scotch, luckily i asked how much this offer was going to ask before my friend opened that sucker up

    • @Neal,
      Onavo works On domestic as well, 3G is 3G. If you picked the wrong carrier, simply remove the profile (Setting, General, Profile) and reinstall.
      You said something about the sign-up process – any feedback? It’s for the beta only, we’ll be available on the App Store next month (hopefully ;-).
      Dvir

  • babeh

    There’s alot prepaid simcard on china when you got landed. Last time i go there, there are several trolley boy offering simcards, and there are some cellulars operator booth, and simcard seller at information booth at airport.
    Remember since China is very big, there are several operators at province. Sometimes one operator not work at China mainland, may works at HK, etc. Make sure you have unlocked phone. Wifi phone highly recommended to use for Voip.

    • Nick Partridge

      Agreed, forgot about “domestic roaming” I know that some pre-pay SIMs don’t work in other areas – my translator had at least two SIMS for different towns only 2 hours apart!

  • radha

    she must be a blonde LoL 🙂

  • Dadditude

    My question? Why is this sort of thing STILL news? I have seen so many reports of this type. It’s no longer about the costs; it’s just pointing out one more idiot in the world. The headline should read more like: Another idiot who didn’t think before they acted racked up another HUGE cell phone bill.

  • Ana

    I don’t have my iphone unlocked, so when I travel abroad, I set the roaming and 3g off, and hunt for a wifi free spot, usually bars or cafes. I use Skype and Raketu as well.

  • @Ana,
    Try Onavo, we shrink data roaming traffic by up to 80%. Works for domestic as well. Now in a private beta, but check our blog for an invite code: blog.onavo.com.
    Dvir

  • Emre SUMENGEN

    What does it have to do with her having an iPhone??? Would it be a penny less, if she had a Nexus S? Bummer!

  • VICO

    Hi, I just came back from mexico after 14 days, and my telus bill is about $9000 , and i do not know how to fight them back , can someone giveme an andvice

    • Yeah get a new phone maybe prepaid since you cant handle contracts obviously